Paddy Graham (R.I.P)
As a tribute to a man who was larger than life, a man who had vision and gathered
round him a nucleus of friends to found St. Malachy’s GFC, it is with great pleasure
that I write these few lines about the club’s founder, Paddy Graham.
He was born outside the village in the townland of Tamnadace. I first got to know
him when he worked for Robert Heuston (Harold’s father) in the early forties. He
was widowed at an early age and this would appear to have established a pattern
for the remainder of his life. On leaving Robert Heuston’s he carried on the business
of shoemaker and repairer in a Nissan Hut, situated in New Row, Castledawson. Paddy
seemed to be there morning, noon and night. He had many friends and contacts. His
relations in New Row were the Toner family, where he would often also be found.
Apart from his business, the other interests in his life were the Pioneer Total
Abstinence Association and the GAA. He was dedicated to both.
A committed drinker in his earlier life, he took the pledge of total abstinence
and in due course became a Pioneer. He was not the first in the area, that honour
belongs to James Taggart R.I.P. However it is to Paddy that most of the credit must
go for convincing a large number of people from the district who took alcohol, some
to excess, to join him in the Pioneer movement. Encouraged by the centre’s spiritual
director, Fr Joe Hughes, he saw to it that most people, on coming of age 16, joined
the movement. Such was the strength of the P.T.A.A within the club in the early
fifties, that on a bus run to the Ulster final at Clones, the majority of people
booking a seat would be Pioneers, the few who were not, were discouraged from travelling.
Paddy’s other passion was St Malachy’s GFC. He was the spark which lit the fire
that created a club that grew and grew into the establishment that exists today.
History will show that his loyalty to club, county and the ideals of the GAA were
steadfast and unwavering. On the occasions when the survival of St Malachy’s was
in jeopardy, he gave leadership that banished gloom, doom and doubters. Those that
arrived running scared, would in time depart with batteries recharged to surmount
the challenges that lay ahead.
The reintroduction of International Soccer games to Belfast after the Second World
War resulted in an increase of club members contravening Rule 27, in short breaking
the ban. How and from whom he received his information, he kept to himself, nevertheless,
he always seemed to be aware of who had travelled to Windsor Park long before they
would have arrived there. This information could be verified later in the evening
with the result that he could be seen early on a Sunday morning visiting the homes
of unsuspecting players repossessing rigs etc. In some cases mothers were caught
up in a situation they did not fully understand and reacted unkindly to his demands.
There would have been no pleasure derived from carrying out these tasks, especially
when he knew he would have difficulty in finding team replacements for the game
in the afternoon. Paddy’s workplace had many visitors who kept him abreast of local
news. He had a good sense of humour, seldom showed annoyance and delighted in playing
pranks on bumptious personalities who could not see the funny side of life. Typical
of the man who the reply given to a person on meeting him for the first time remarked
that he had “a very big belly!”. “Ah! Not at all son, that’s not my belly, you see
that’s where my chest has slid down to”. He died suddenly on the 11 November 1962
whilst attending a whist drive in Toome. A large funeral was an immediate sign of
the celebration of his life. Paddy was laid to rest in the now well cared for Milltown
Cemetery. The club he helped to found have marked his last resting place with a
suitable headstone. A perpetual challenge cup has been presented in his memory.
This is competed for on a knockout basis by reserve teams within the South Derry
From his vantage point across the road, may he hear the roar of spectators as they
enjoy watching the game he loved and gave so freely of his time to promoting.
Rest in Peace Paddy.